I am on the street, filling time. It is morning, a slow Spanish morning, where the shops are late opening and the bars are not quite filled with workers in for their coffee and pan con queso y jamon, bread with cheese and ham or a variety of other cured meats.
I am looking for sustenance, for fresh fruit and vegetables to accompany my pan con queso. I find a yoghurt-like cheesecake and wash it down with an espresso; I am vegetarian in a foreign land and white food (rice, wheat, yoghurt) is my lot, once again.
The sky above is dripping small irregular drops, and I head home to my little hostal and its pretty homemade stone floor. I am standing at the traffic lights near the Puerta Real, a roundabout of sorts, a busy intersection in the old city, when I hear toots and whistles and drums.
I look around and it is then I notice a massive police presence on the opposite corner. Oooooo, I think, something is about to happen. I hear sirens. I see police cars coming up the road. I tune in again to the drums and the whistles and toot toot toots. The pedestrian light turns green and the crowd swirls around me as it crosses the road. I stand where I am. I have, after all, nowhere in particular to go and I am more curious about the fracas than concerned about the rain falling now around me.
Buses jam the intersection, honking their horns as eventually they pass. I wonder if the cacophony has anything to do with yesterday’s protest further up the road, outside what I can only presume to be the courthouse.
I stumbled upon that one too, when I was seeking out my ticket to the Alhambra. News cameras. Protesters chanting. Police keeping the small crowd off the road. I thought they wanted to free ‘Jessica’, until I finally understood they were saying ‘judicio’.
Finally a cheer had gone up; if Jessica was not free, something had been won – hard won, and this pleased me. For liberty hard won is a victory for all people, not just a verdict that satisfies either vengeance or the perceived rights of an individual that, if truly righteous, must then be fought all over again.
I laugh out loud when a police car stops at the green traffic light and belts out its siren as if it is shrieking a chant. The whistles and drums are within sight now and I am in their path. I laugh louder – hundreds of police officers are pouring around the curved footpath towards me, banging drums, shrilling their traffic whistles, raising their arms in protest to the grey sky, blowing scratchy horns.
An explosion towards the back of the march causes me to jump and I shake my head as a billow of smoke envelops the police protesters.
The police massed on the other side of the intersection fall onto the road to meet their comrades. Small bombs mark the moment. I jump and jump again. The presence of my son Ben is beside me now, for it is the kind of thing he and we find hysterically funny – the surprise and the irony and the contradiction.
For it is funny. Yet, as I finally leave the law enforcers to their demanding rally on the steps of a beautiful building that is sentry to an intersection that has probably seen much protest over the centuries, I find there are tears in my eyes.
Liberty, fair play, mercy, whomever is in need of it at a given moment in time, is always hard won.
And I am stirred by the courage of those who claim all of the above as their right, regardless of the masks they wear, by day or night.